Sure, Santa’s fun and jolly but he’s not the only cultural holiday icon on the block. With so many winter holidays to celebrate, why not make this year’s festivities a time to honor the differences across cultures by learning how to celebrate other seasonal holidays?
First celebrated in 1967, this strictly cultural holiday serves to build and reinforce the unity in African American families and their community. The celebration lasts seven days from December 26 to January 1. Each night a candle is lit to represent seven guiding principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose creativity and faith.
The candle lit on the first night is colored black to represent the African American culture and each subsequent night, red candles, representing struggle, and green candles, representing a prosperous future, are lit alternately. Some who celebrate the holiday exchange handmade gifts during the week long celebration.
A Jewish holiday lasting eight nights is celebrated during a different week every year based upon where it lands on the Jewish calendar, and is actually one of the less religiously significant holidays for those of the Jewish faith.
Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of how a supply of oil, which was only enough to last one or two nights, endured for eight. Each night a candle is lit and placed on the menorah, a special candle holder. The exchange of gifts each night has become a typical Hanukkah tradition, but bears no religious significance.
Fiesta of Our Lady Guadalupe
This Mexican Catholic holiday is celebrated on December 12 every year when Mexicans traditionally make a pilgrimage to the chapel Tepayac Hill in Mexico City. The holiday, both religious and cultural in nature, commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an indigenous peasant named Juan Diego in 1531. Mexican people celebrate the holiday by gathering their families for large fiestas and feasts.
Celebrate Them All
Do something a little different this holiday season. Now that you know something about each of these holidays, you may be able to draw bits and pieces of these traditions and incorporate them into your own festivities this year.
- Decorations: You can include different culture’s decorations side by side with your own. For example, place the menorah right next to the Mexican flag, which will hang nearby the Christmas tree, standing across from the Kwanzaa candle holder.
- Activities/Entertainment: One night light the menorah and another night light the Kwanzaa candles. Set up a dreidel circle complete with gelt for betting and sing some Christmas carols and other well-known winter jingles. Find some new songs from other cultural holidays to incorporate as well.
- Food: The best part about the holidays is the food. This year you can draw from multiple cultural inspirations for a new menu. Must have dishes should include:
- Gingerbread cookies – a traditional Christmas cookie that is sweet with a hint of molasses style spice
- Potato latkes – these Hanukkah treats are fried potato patties that can be eaten with a variety of condiments like sour cream, ketchup or applesauce
- Black eyed peas and rice – this hearty black eyed peas dish is often eaten during Kwanzaa
- Biscochitos – as an alternative to typical holiday cookies this Mexican dessert is made with a combination of anise seeds and cinnamon sugar
- Rugalech – this Jewish pastry is made with a cream cheese dough and can be filled with anything from raisins to walnuts to chocolate
- Sweet potato pie – with a combination of ginger and spices this is a subtly sweet and nutty dessert served for Kwanzaa dinners
- Honey-baked ham no Christmas meal is complete without the savory warmth of this main course dish
- Tamales – in Mexican culture tamale making is often a traditional family activity during the winter holiday season; stuff them with shredded beef, chicken, green corn or chorizo